I will #REJOICE in the Lord

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Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will REJOICE in the LORD,
I will be JOYFUL in God my Savior.  

—Habakkuk 3:17-18

When Rick and I lived in the central valley of California, we lived in the midst of a farm belt that feeds the whole country. We lived near groves of almost every kind of fruit and nut trees. Cotton, strawberry and corn fields bordered farms and housing developments alike. I could therefore relate to the words of these verses as I gazed upon field after field of grape vines.

During the summer months, we could see certain fields of grapes drying in the sun to make raisins. And when we looked out into our backyard, there was our fig tree, several weeks past harvest but still in full leaf.

As I contemplated these verses, I wondered about Habakkuk’s strong faith. Here was a man who questioned his LORD’s motives and supposed inaction, yet he also learned to trust and REJOICE in Him, no matter what. His JOYFUL attitude makes his words sing.

What about me? Can I still “be JOYFUL in God my Savior” in spite of how I feel each day?

I have spent many years learning to live with chronic illness. In addition to several illnesses, my immune system doesn’t work that well after years of taking too many antibiotics. I seem to fall prey to all the little bugs that are going around, and it takes me more time than most people to recover. I have little energy to complete the smallest tasks in my home; even sweeping the floor seems a monumental project. But in spite of all this, I can still trust that God is taking care of me, that He is still in control, and that I can actually REJOICE in that fact.

This season of my life in which I’m struggling with different illnesses is a time when I can complain about the injustice of it, or I can instead be JOYFUL and thankful for God’s presence in my life, no matter what. I choose to be JOYFUL because God promises to be with us in every situation, good or bad.

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REJOICE in the Lord always.
I will say it again: REJOICE!
Let your gentleness be evident to all.
The Lord is near.
—Philippians 4:4

Heavenly Father: Thank you for the JOY You provide in every situation. Help me to be Your light, your JOY and your promise of hope for others, even during times of pain and frustration. Amen.

Wait For the Lord

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Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
yes, wait for the LORD.

—Psalm 27:14

No one likes to wait.

I can remember when the only ways we got in touch with each other was to phone them or send them actual written letters. I know, I’m dating myself here! Then email became the preferred method of communication because it was so much quicker.

We still use email but most of us now text our messages to each other because that is even faster. And don’t even get me started on how much we rely on social media like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to instantly transmit our thoughts.

We rush through fast-food drive-thrus.

We even drive faster than we should because posted speed limits seem impossibly slow to us.

How many times have you been waiting for an elevator where you or someone else has already pushed the “up” or “down” button. The button is already lit up but then another person approaches and presses the button again because that will obviously make the elevator arrive faster.

And check out the “Walk” light image above. In big cities, most people walk to their destinations. Waiting at crosswalks is always interesting. Many people repeatedly push the button that changes the light as if the light will immediately change in their favor. Some people step off the curb as they’re waiting so they’ll have a head start when the light does change. And then there are those who are so impatient to get across the street that they won’t wait for the “Walk” light to appear. They dodge cars as they force their way to the other side.

It strikes me that all of this is similar to the way we sometimes approach God when seeking direction in our lives.

Sometimes we swamp God with prayer because we think we might get our answer faster.

Other times we’re like those who step off the curb while waiting for the “Walk” light: we know God will answer our prayer but we step out ahead of His timing.

And how about when we rush headlong with our agenda without waiting for God to show us His will? We mistakenly proceed on our own to do what seems best to reach our goal but how often do we get tangled up in what might have been because we jump so far ahead of God’s timing?

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Beloved, I have been there more times than I can count! Waiting for God is not easy, is it? Sometimes that kind of silence can feel like forever. We start to think we’re praying the wrong way or that God doesn’t understand how urgent our situation is.

Beloved, God knows exactly what is going on in our lives and in our hearts. He has always been aware of what we need—before we were even born! His timing is always exactly right!

Even though I am still in a season of waiting, I am faithfully trying to remember that:

…with the LORD one day is as a thousand years,
and a thousand years as one day.

—1 Peter 2:8

What that means to me is that even though I may think it’s taking too long to see the Lord’s will in my life right now, that doesn’t mean He isn’t already working things out.

This is exactly the time for me to keep on praying while waiting and trusting. How about you?

#Faith For Things Not Seen

I was privileged to serve as a counselor for Royal Family Kids Camp in the summers of 1996 and 1997. RFKC’s mission statement: “Create life-changing moments for children of abuse.”

Let me just say that I did not go into this venture lightly, but turning everything over to God during my first week at camp resulted in even more faith in Him to walk with me through everything in my life. I wrote this piece after my first year at camp because I wanted to make sure I never forget the many ways God worked in my life and in the life of one particular little girl in my charge.

Beloved, if you ever have the chance to work at camps such as these, don’t hesitate! The rewards will be so much more than you can imagine. And as always, I give glory to God who never, ever lets me down.

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Faith for Things Not Seen

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for,
the evidence of things not seen.
—Hebrews 11:1

Lord, how can You possibly ask me to do this? I’m not trained to be a counselor! The words welled up in me as I struggled to understand God’s persistent nudging. Suddenly I could feel His loving arms wrapped around my shoulders like a warm shawl. And then I distinctly heard the words: “My child, I want you to do this for Me.”

Well, how could I ignore that? I bowed to God’s greatness and silently whispered my thanks to Him for being so patient with me. And then I prayed one last thing: God, if You really want me to do this, please enable me for the task.

When God called me to be a counselor at a Christian camp for abused and abandoned children, I thought that this wonderful endeavor would be a blessing to some very needy children. Week after week, the Lord pointed my eyes to the announcement in the church bulletin, yet I kept ignoring the urgings I felt that God wanted me to participate in some way. The word “counselor” stood out more than anything else in that announcement, but I felt completely unequipped for this position.

Four short months later I was at camp. One of the little girls I had in my charge was a particularly tough case. Eight-year-old Debbie* had been shuffled from one foster home to another. She was certain of only one thing: that she could expect abuse or negative treatment on a regular basis. Like so many of these abused children, she learned to bury her true emotions and instead developed a defensive posture, along with the frequent tendency to declare “No!” in response to any suggestions, fun or not.

Debbie’s stubbornness was not easy for any of us to deal with. Whenever we were to start anything new, whether it was crafts, chapel, or even games, Debbie’s standard response was “No!” She would literally crouch down and keep shouting this over and over again. I found myself praying almost constantly that entire week. My prayers would start, “Please God…” and as the Lord helped me deal with each difficulty, they then became, “Thank you, God…”

Our goal was to give these children a week of carefree fun, but Debbie’s tantrums kept testing my patience and that of the camp directors too. After a couple of days of this negative behavior, we had a discussion about sending Debbie home early which greatly upset me. How could we take away this one week of fun from someone who rarely had the chance to do anything enjoyable? I pleaded with the directors to give her another chance and they agreed.

That same night, I found myself unable to sleep because of Debbie’s exceedingly vocal night terrors. She tossed and turned as she relived some terrifying experiences, and mumbled words such as “Don’t!” and “Stop!”

I got up to make sure she was all right and found her sleeping on her stomach facing me. I ran my hand lightly over her forehead, then up and down her back in a soothing manner. She didn’t seem to be sound asleep yet she was not fully awake either. As I kept rubbing her back, she continued to moan in a sing-song way. Even when I talked to her in an attempt to wake her out of her bad dream, she just moaned as if in pain. After about twenty minutes of this, I lay back down and tried to get to sleep, but it was impossible with all her moaning.

I lay wide awake. What to do now? I got up again and tried to quiet Debbie by rubbing her back. Once again, that didn’t work. Tears coursed down my face as I prayed for guidance…for Debbie to stop…to be able to fall asleep again. I was so tired. How was I going to handle the rest of the week?

Once more I tried to sleep. When that didn’t work, I went back to Debbie and tried to wake her up. “Debbie, are you all right? Are you having a bad dream?”

This time she seemed to hear me. The answering groan was different from the others, almost like a real answer.

“Do you want to get up and talk for a while?” I asked.

Debbie’s eyelids flickered and then opened briefly. “Yeah,” her sleep voice croaked as she sat up in her top bunk.

“Come on, I’ll help you climb down.” I assisted a very groggy Debbie by placing one of her feet at a time on each of the bunk bed steps. When she was standing on the floor, I led her to the designated play area next to her bed and sat down, pulling her to a sitting position next to me.

The night air was cold and crisp up here in the mountains, so I put my arm around her and covered us both with a blanket. I looked down at her in anticipation of our little talk. Instead, she leaned her head against my arm and fell asleep again.

I shook my head in disbelief, thinking that maybe all she had needed was a change of position. I decided to sit with her this way for a while and leaned my head back against the wall. In a few minutes, I started praying for her again.

I asked God what I could say or do to help Debbie adjust better because I wanted her to enjoy her camping experience. He showed me that Debbie’s life was full of commands. She was never asked about anything. He then gave me one word: choices.

Even here at camp, she was expected to adhere to rules and a schedule, which in itself is not a bad thing, but difficult for her to deal with. As I prayed about all of this, God showed me that if Debbie was given some limited choices, her responses might be different.

I sat with Debbie like this and prayed for about two hours. I realized then that I had better get some sleep before this day officially started. I eased Debbie away from me. “Do you want to sleep down here the rest of the night?” I whispered to her.

She seemed to understand and gave a sleep nod, so I slipped her down onto the bed and fetched her pillow from her bunk. Lifting her head gently, I placed the pillow beneath it and then tucked the blanket around her better. I stood next to her for a few minutes to make sure she was all right. Now it was time to get back to my own bed.

It was already 4:30 as I fell into a light, fitful sleep. I had to be up again in about an hour. This time Debbie slept peacefully.

Several hours later, Debbie started her usual tantrum when informed it was time for chapel. Before she could get carried away, I told her she had the choice of going to chapel with me or to the nurse’s office. Of course, she chose to stay with the nurse. But not more than fifteen minutes later, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and there stood Debbie. “I want to be here with you,” she whispered.

I smiled at her and nodded to the nurse, who had escorted Debbie to chapel. As we stood to sing, I felt Debbie’s small hand slip into mine. Thank you, God… Before that week was over, little Debbie asked Jesus Christ into her heart.

When we returned home, all who had served at camp were treated to a special dinner at church. The counselors each received a certificate inscribed with a Scripture passage our leaders thought best described us. Much to my surprise, I saw that my certificate contained Hebrews 11:1, the verse which begins a chapter all about faith.

Faith. I had started out on this journey with a great deal of skepticism. I didn’t understand why God would call someone like me to serve Him in this way, but He kept me going by faith throughout the entire week and left me with a new understanding of His enabling power. Whenever God resolves to use us in His work, He will enable us to do it!

And by the way, Debbie was in my charge again the following year —but what a changed Debbie! This time she helped me take care of my other little charge, a girl who had been brain-damaged from so much physical abuse that she sometimes had behavioral problems. After that week together, Debbie told me she couldn’t wait for her turn to be a counselor at that camp. And ten years later, Debbie did go through training to be a counselor at that same camp.

The lesson I learned through all of this comes back to me as I continue to learn what true faith is. Each of us can“count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience”  (James 1:2-3).

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As for me, I continually pray that I will always be willing to answer God’s call in my life to walk by faith. To do otherwise is to miss a huge blessing!

*Not her real name for her privacy and protection.

A Dead Branch

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A Dead Branch

By Patricia Knight

We are frequently treated to the hummingbirds’ antics as they sip nectar from the feeder suspended between two parallel birch trees. The leaves gently sway in contrast to the desultory movements of the diminutive hummingbirds. The hummingbirds rest on the only dead branch located in direct line with the feeder.

If the dead tree branch had been within my reach, it would have been lopped off by my pruning shears long ago. I ascribe to the theory that most plants flourish with regular pruning of dead or ineffectual branches. Little did I realize that I would have threatened the hummingbird’s favorite rest and look-out spot.  From the hummingbirds’ vantage point on the dead branch, attacks can be averted and their eating station protected, all from an unobstructed view of the world around them.

Joseph was the youngest of Jacob and Rachael’s twelve sons. “Now Israel {Jacob} loved Joseph more than any of his other sons because he had been born to him in old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him” (Genesis 37:3). Joseph’s jealous brothers gained opportunity for retribution when Joseph was sent by his father with instructions to check on their welfare in the area they were grazing the family flocks.

The familiarity of the account of the brothers stripping Joseph of his ornamental coat and throwing him into an empty cistern is nonetheless chilling. When the brothers realized they could exploit Joseph’s life for an attractive price, they pulled him out of the well and sold him as a slave to the Midianite traders. “The Midianite merchants sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard”(Genesis 37:36).

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Though his brothers intended only harm toward Joseph, God had a magnificent future in mind for him, orchestrating circumstances and people to accomplish His goal. “The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered … Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned” (Genesis 39:2&5).   

Joseph’s experiences in the household of government officials in Egypt were a pattern of victories and defeats. Though he was thrown into jail on a trumped-up charge and apparently forgotten by those in authority, God gave him the ability to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, his ticket out of jail and into another responsible position. Joseph prophesied through God’s intervention, warning that Egypt would experience seven years of abundance followed by an equal number of years of famine that would ravage the land.  Joseph explained to Pharaoh that God was responsible for interpreting his dream and its message.

Once again, God rewarded Joseph. Pharaoh proclaimed, in the presence of all of his officials: “‘Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you’”(Genesis 41:39-40).  At age thirty, Joseph was named second-in-command of the whole land of Egypt. He traveled extensively throughout Egypt, collecting from every harvest, storing the abundance for sale and distribution during the years of famine.

During the famine, the humanly unpredictable scenario developed in which Jacob sent ten of his sons to Egypt to buy food. Joseph, then governor of the land, met with all people requesting grain. He immediately recognized his brothers who had previously betrayed him, though they did not suspect it was Joseph interacting with them. After an involved process Joseph finally admitted to his brothers, “‘But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt’” (Genesis 45:7-8).

Are we so different from Joseph?  During our lifetimes we experience vacillating failures and victories. When we are in the throes of disappointment and defeat, where does our trust lie? Do we moan, groan, and complain about situations that may be less than ideal or beyond our control? Joseph was imprisoned in the king’s dungeon on false charges of making advances toward his master’s wife. Even though God granted Joseph favor in the prison, his environment remained a dark, dingy, odiferous dungeon.

Joseph didn’t know when imprisoned that God would eventually place him in a position of authority so that his family could survive the future widespread famine. What kept Joseph encouraged during his prison term? It is likely Joseph’s faith and trust in God supplied him with daily strength. Joseph’s life story is a marvelous illustration of personal patience and trust in a faithful God, whose perfect plan is always accomplished in His precise timing.

God has not changed His methods throughout the centuries. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow” (Hebrews 13:8). His promises are trustworthy. Like Joseph, even when we can’t see beyond our present circumstances, if we trust in God to develop His unique purposes for us, we shall eventually experience a victory. God created us and maintains a devoted love for each of us. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’”(Jeremiah 29:11) 

Even during those times in our lives when God is silent, He is continually intervening on our behalf. His plans and purposes for each of us are perfectly orchestrated, just as in Joseph’s life. “A righteous man may have troubles but the Lord delivers him from them all” (Psalm 34:19).

Perched at attention on the dead branch, the hummingbird remains constantly vulnerable.  Instinct positions the hummer on defense against attacking predators. Vigilance is the only stance the hummer knows. However, we are free to develop trust that God will protect us from harm as we rely upon His deliverance. When adversities assail us as they did Joseph, the energies that would normally be expended on fear are converted into prayer for God’s power and strength. God assured the apostle Paul, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”(2 Corinthians 12:9).

The victory is ours to claim!  

When Routines Become Idols

Reblogged from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW)

When Routines Become Idols 

By Christina Fox

From the moment we are born, our lives center around our daily routines. We rise with the sun and sleep when it sets. We work during the week and rest on the weekend. Our bellies are quick to tell us when we miss one of our thrice daily meals. We attend school during the fall, winter, and spring, and play all summer. We celebrate the same holidays year after year.

God created routines when he set the sun and moon in space. He organized our week by giving us a day of rest. He even provided the Israelites with yearly festivals, celebrations, and remembrances.

Pediatricians tell us that children thrive and feel safe when they have routines and structure to their day. Routines are good for us as adults as well. They keep us on track and organized. They give shape to our day and keep us from getting distracted. Indeed, routines are good. But routines can sometimes turn from a good thing to a not so good thing: when they become an idol of our heart.

Read the rest here.

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When you can’t, He can

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When We are Neediest 

When you are the neediest, He is the most sufficient.

When you are completely helpless, He is the most helpful.

When you feel totally dependent, He is absolutely dependable.

When you are the weakest, He is the most able.

When you are the most alone, He is intimately present.

When you feel you are the least, He is the greatest.

When you feel the most useless, He is preparing you.

When it is the darkest, He is the only Light you need.

When you feel the least secure, He is your Rock and Fortress.

When you are the most humble, He is most gracious.

When you can’t, He can.

—Source unknown

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Reasons to Be Content

Here’s another great devotional about contentment,
this one from John MacArthur’s daily devotional email series
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Reasons to Be Content

“‘For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?’” (Matthew 6:25).

Worry is the opposite of contentment, which should be a believer’s normal and consistent state of mind. You should be able to say with Paul, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (Phil. 4:11–12).

A Christian’s contentment is found only in God—in His ownership, control, and provision of everything we possess and will ever need. Since God owns everything, what we now have and what we will ever have belongs to Him.

Daniel understood the Lord’s control of everything: “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding” (Dan. 2:20–21).

And if we hadn’t heard it from Daniel, we should know it from one of the ancient names of God—Jehovah-Jireh, which means, “the Lord who provides.”

Whatever the Lord gives us belongs to Him. Therefore, it is our responsibility to thank Him for it and to use it wisely and unselfishly for as long as He entrusts us with it.

Ask Yourself

What keeps “enough” from being enough for us? How do we define the level of property or possessions we need in order to feel satisfied with our supply? Why are these measurements so often faulty and skewed away from sound biblical understanding?

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From Daily Readings from the Life of Christ, Vol. 1, John MacArthur. Copyright © 2008. Used by permission of Moody Publishers, Chicago, IL 60610
,www.moodypublishers.com.

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